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Clean Energy Blog

The Clean Energy program is responsible for powering sustainable solutions and progress past bad ideas. With your help, we oppose West Coast coal and crude oil export, protect our region from dangerous transport of fossil fuels, and advocate for clean energy solutions throughout our communities. Read more.

  • Cherry Point Fossil Fuels: Stand up for higher standards at October 24th public meeting On August 7th, the Whatcom County Council initiated a public review process for a set of draft code amendments that would hold industries accountable for pollution and protect the air ...
    Posted Nov 5, 2019, 9:01 AM by Simon Bakke
  • Cherry Point: Next few weeks are our chance to protect public health & safety We have a rare opportunity in the coming weeks to hold oil companies accountable for the impacts of their fossil fuel projects. On June 18th, the Whatcom County Council began ...
    Posted Jul 26, 2019, 11:21 AM by Simon Bakke
  • Wildfire season is looming. What can you do to adapt? As you’ve likely noticed, Northwest Washington has witnessed an abnormally dry spring — with almost four months of below-normal rainfall. Our region of the Salish Sea is at 47 ...
    Posted May 30, 2019, 4:46 PM by Simon Bakke
  • Trump Executive Orders aim to speed up approval of fossil fuel projects On April 11th, President Trump signed two new Executive Orders to promote oil and gas pipeline and rail shipment projects, subvert the Clean Water Act, remove permit requirements and review ...
    Posted Apr 18, 2019, 12:44 PM by Simon Bakke
  • County Council Moves to Protect Cherry Point: What's next?  By Eddy Ury, Clean Energy Program Manager. Originally published in Whatcom Watch, February 2019. Over the last decade, communities across the Pacific Northwest have risen up against a series of ...
    Posted Apr 9, 2019, 10:33 AM by Simon Bakke
Showing posts 1 - 5 of 20. View more »

Cherry Point Fossil Fuels: Stand up for higher standards at October 24th public meeting

posted Aug 7, 2019, 3:59 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Nov 5, 2019, 9:01 AM ]

On August 7th, the Whatcom County Council initiated a public review process for a set of draft code amendments that would hold industries accountable for pollution and protect the air, water, and communities around Cherry Point’s fossil fuel industries. 

The draft amendments include a provision to prevent new new coal, oil or gas transshipment facilities. Your input over the next three months will be crucial to safeguard communities from industrial impacts. Oil companies have gotten a free pass in this county for over 60 years, getting major permits approved without adequate environmental review or safety requirements.

Thankfully, after three years of work on these draft code amendments, the County has set in motion a robust public process for taking the community’s feedback on the rules. Come to a County work session — it's open to the public, but this particular meeting doesn't have time allotted for public testimony. This is your opportunity to learn about the efforts to protect our community and ecosystems from fossil fuel impacts — so you can give effective, helpful, and specific input to the County in the coming weeks. At this time, public comments are only useful if they provide specific, relevant information or suggestions to resolve problems! 

The primary focus of concern and deliberation in the policies is a condition to require mitigation for greenhouse gas emission impacts for refinery projects that would otherwise not be regulated by state or federal agencies. This would apply to projects that induced significant, measurable emissions through their cumulative impacts, such as from trains and ships.

What do the proposed land use code amendments include?

The current draft Cherry Point amendments... 
  • Prohibit new coal, oil or gas industries at Cherry Point and puts conditions on the existing ones;
  • Prohibit new shipping piers, docks or wharfs at Cherry Point;
  • Require new permits and conditions for Changes of Use, so that existing terminals don't change to become shipment hubs for crude oil, tar sands, coal, or fracked gas;
  • Require expansion of existing refineries to meet conditions including mitigation of climate pollution.

What happens between now and December 2019?
(Click graphic for a larger version)

Why do we need more protective standards written into law?
  • In 2013, Whatcom County determined two oil train terminals were non-significant and permitted them without review of their impacts — despite the major risks posed by crude oil trains that have exploded twelve times in the US and Canada since.
  • Current laws are vulnerable to loopholes and gray areas that oil companies could exploit to sue Whatcom County for rejecting permits with unmitigable negative impacts to our communities.
  • One oil spill could cause irrevocable damage to already endangered fisheries that are the foundation of the livelihoods and economy of families who have relied on fishing since time immemorial. 
  • Cherry Point is a targeted route for increased tar sands, oil, and gas shipment from Canada.


In 2016, Lummi Nation and our community blocked the would-be largest coal export terminal in North America, after the U.S Army Corps of Engineers recognized the terminal would violate Lummi Nation's treaty fishing rights. Soon after, Whatcom County Council imposed a temporary moratorium preventing new fossil fuel transshipment infrastructure at Cherry Point, until the county could create legal protections for people and the environment from impacts of fossil fuel projects. After a years-long process, the council has finally presented a set of draft amendments with those legal protections, and aims to pass a final version of them this fall.


Cherry Point: Next few weeks are our chance to protect public health & safety

posted Jun 24, 2019, 10:57 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Jul 26, 2019, 11:21 AM ]

We have a rare opportunity in the coming weeks to hold oil companies accountable for the impacts of their fossil fuel projects. 

On June 18th, the Whatcom County Council began review of new code amendments on the table right now, aiming to protect our communities from dangerous fossil fuel expansions. Three years of our work together to safeguard communities from industrial impacts will come down to the next five months. And we have less than three weeks to get organized.

That same afternoon, Canada’s government announced it would put shovels in the ground this year to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline — which if completed will send over 400 tar sands export tankers per year through the Salish Sea, threatening local communities, fisheries, orcas, and the climate. And it means we'll face international pressures to expand oil shipments through Northwest Washington.

This makes it more urgent than ever that we put strong legal protections in place to safeguard Whatcom County — before it's too late.

Attend the public hearing on July 9th and wear red to show your support for improved safety and health standards for the fossil fuel industry in our area! Show up at 6:15PM to sign up to speak, and the hearing will begin at 7:00 PM.


In 2016, Lummi Nation and our community blocked the would-be largest coal export terminal in North America, after the U.S Army Corps of Engineers recognized the terminal would violate Lummi Nation's treaty fishing rights. Soon after, Whatcom County Council imposed a temporary moratorium preventing new fossil fuel transshipment infrastructure at Cherry Point, until the county could create legal protections for people and the environment from impacts of fossil fuel projects. After a years-long process, the council has finally presented a set of draft amendments with those legal protections, and aims to pass a final version of them this fall.

What happens between now and the end of the year?

  • June 26th: Learn about what’s inside the new draft amendments at RE Sources’ monthly Activist Meeting. You’ll want to come to this if you want to make comments throughout the process that will truly make a difference.
  • July 9th: New code amendments will be on the county council’s agenda. This is your chance to speak up about strengthening the Cherry Point amendments to better safeguard public health and safety. There will also be a chance to support another extension of the temporary moratorium on risky new fossil fuel shipment projects at Cherry Point while the amendments are being finalized. 
  • July 25th - September 12th: Planning Commission Review and public meetings (Town Hall TBD).
  • Fall 2019: County Council review and revision of final ordinance.
  • November 5th: County Council and Executive Election ballots due.
  • December 3rd (or sooner): Final public hearing and vote on adoption of ordinance.

Come to the July 9th public hearing!

Wildfire season is looming. What can you do to adapt?

posted May 30, 2019, 4:46 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated May 30, 2019, 4:46 PM ]

As you’ve likely noticed, Northwest Washington has witnessed an abnormally dry spring — with almost four months of below-normal rainfall. Our region of the Salish Sea is at 47% of normal snow water equivalent, and snowpack is expected to melt before the end of summer. Experts are predicting a long season of drought and wildfires. We just hit a level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide not seen since humans walked the earth. And a warming climate means our summers are increasingly more likely to put us in drought conditions. Now, a statewide drought emergency announced by Governor Inslee has been expanded to half the state, including the Nooksack and Skagit rivers.

Since we know climate change is not going anywhere soon, it’s time to adapt and prepare for the changes we’re already experiencing. Here are four climate change preparedness resources you can use this season:

  1. Green your yard: adapt your lawn for drought and climateresilience. Americans use 1/3 of all residential water for irrigation — mostly of lawns, which are dead zones for bird, bee, and insect habitat, and generators of fertilizer, pesticides, and gas-powered equipment emissions.
  2. Protect your home and help prevent forest fires from spreading. Taking precautions like clearing brush, trees, and other flammable materials away from your home, and installing metal roofs on structures, can help create fire-resilient communities.
  3. Help your neighborhood become a Fire Adapted Community. Fire Adapted Communities use their shared understanding of fires to invest in planning ahead. Neighbors, fire professionals, local business owners and city planners take actions that can help communities live more safely with wildfire.
  4. Learn how to decrease your risk from wildfire smoke and detox after smoke inhalation. Wildfire smoke, because of the particulate matter in the smoke, causes health effects in people with a respiratory problems (especially asthma), in the young, and in the elderly. Even if the air looks clear, air with particulate matter can persist for months.
    1. Check your local air quality: The Washington Smoke Information blog has up-to-date info and a map of areas with air quality concerns. 
    2. The Washington Department of Health's FAQ page has more about how to care for yourself and your family when it's smoky outside.
Stay safe out there!

Trump Executive Orders aim to speed up approval of fossil fuel projects

posted Apr 18, 2019, 12:32 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Apr 18, 2019, 12:44 PM ]

On April 11th, President Trump signed two new Executive Orders to promote oil and gas pipeline and rail shipment projects, subvert the Clean Water Act, remove permit requirements and review processes to expedite approval of pipelines.

This will likely be challenged in court, but as it stands is an administrative action directing federal agencies.

Here's a summary of the policies and links to them in full: 

Order 1 (Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth) declares the need to increase the efficiency of, and remove barriers to, continuing fossil fuel development and transportation. Section 2 sets out the policy of the U.S.; Section 3 orders EPA to begin a process to revise state and tribal authority under Clean Water Act 401; Section 4 orders DOT to propose a rule to allow LNG to be transported by rail (previously thought too hazardous); Section 5 involves investigating whether proxy fights on divestment from fossil fuels in ERISA pension funds should be disallowed or changed; Section 6 is about federal rights of way; Section 7 requires a report on the barriers to a national energy market (focus on gas and New England but could expand) with 180 days; Section 8 is how the federal government can help states produce more fossil fuel energy; Section 9 is a required report on promoting economic growth in the Appalachian region, focused on petrochemical.

Order 2 (Issuance of Permits with Respect to Facilities and Land Transportation Crossings at the Int’l Boundaries of the U.S.) is about Trump taking cross-border approval of pipelines, bridges, other facilities away from the State Dep’t and giving to himself, avoiding NEPA and other federal laws that arguably don’t apply to the President.

Read the press release from the Power Past Fracked Gas coalition, and read more here.

County Council Moves to Protect Cherry Point: What's next?

posted Apr 9, 2019, 10:32 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Apr 9, 2019, 10:33 AM ]

 By Eddy Ury, Clean Energy Program Manager. Originally published in Whatcom Watch, February 2019. 

Over the last decade, communities across the Pacific Northwest have risen up against a series of giant proposals to expand fossil fuel ports, shipments and pipelines, stopping them time and again. Now unable to build new terminals, oil companies are seeking to expand capacity to ship oil through existing ports, and Cherry Point is a prime target.

A confluence of factors makes the Cherry Point industrial zone the targeted route for Canada’s tar sands and fracked gas to be transferred from pipelines and trains onto outbound tankers. Before Whatcom County enacted a temporary permit moratorium in August 2016, there was little standing in the way of existing terminals re-configuring to ship more crude oil, tar sands and fracked gas overseas.

Now, the County Council is reviewing a newly drafted land-use ordinance to restrict permitting for fossil fuel facilities in order to protect public health and our environment from destructive projects.

This article outlines why this action is so critical for our communities and environment, the critical role local government plays, and how the David and Goliath battles of the last decade have led us to this historic opportunity to protect our region and beyond.

Local Risks and Impacts

Our region already bears extensive impacts from hazardous fossil fuel shipments, and we’re facing even greater risks as pressure mounts to export crude oil and gas through northwest Washington. Indeed, most of the petroleum consumed in the greater Pacific Northwest region passes through Whatcom and Skagit counties. Canadian fracked gas and tar sands cross the border through pipeline junctions at Sumas, flowing south across farmland, rivers, and towns. Two oil refineries and an aluminum smelter pump pollution into the air and water, directly adjacent to the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve and the Lummi Nation Reservation.

The local concentration of fossil fuel infrastructure impacts our communities and our environment. Local residents face the constant threat of pipeline leaks in our rivers and forests, oil spills off our shores, and trains exploding in our towns. We’ve seen the costs when the Olympic Pipeline erupted in 1999, setting Whatcom Creek on fire and killing three boys. Between 2013 and 2016, 11 oil trains exploded across the continent, including trains headed for Washington. Our communities bear the burden of dealing with these risks.

The region’s ecosystems suffer impacts and risks from fossil fuel facilities as well. Populations of Chinook salmon, and Pacific herring — two keystone species for the marine food chain — are now threatened or endangered. Fisheries have declined severely over the past half-century, and may be facing total collapse. The 74 surviving southern resident orcas are on the brink of extinction. Their survival is further threatened by relentless proposals to increase shipments of oil, tar sands, fracked gas and coal through the Salish Sea. Every ship navigating around the San Juan Islands increases the risk of a spill, and one spill could spell the end for the southern resident orcas.

Last Line of Defense

Local governments are the only lawful decision-makers standing in the way of expansions that bring even more trains and tankers, and they are responsible for limiting the risks, hazards, pollution and harm these projects cause. Yet under current statute, expansions of existing facilities can be permitted with minimal review, without recognition of their impacts. A series of small upgrades can add up to a big change, known as “piecemealing.”

The need for regulatory reforms to the permitting process is evident and increasingly urgent. That’s why the Whatcom County Council is undergoing a public review process for an ordinance that would make permitting for fossil fuel projects (including new permits at existing facilities) far more restrictive — requiring greater scrutiny, more public review, protective conditions and standards for mitigations, with outright prohibitions on coal facilities and new piers.

Under the proposed ordinance, significant upgrades or changes at the refineries would require conditional use permits and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) that address cumulative impacts on climate, Salish Sea ecosystems and fisheries. Projects that can’t meet the conditions will be rejected.

This law is vehemently opposed by fossil fuel interests including BP, Phillips 66, Petrogas, the Western States Petroleum Association, the Whatcom Business Alliance, and other organizations. Nonetheless, with demonstrated public support, the County Council majority may pass a revised version of this ordinance in 2019. Over three years of public process have taken place to get these policies right — to be enforceable, effective, and legally defensible.

To understand how this bold proposal came about, one must look at key events over the last decade.

Coal Ports Stalled, Oil Trains Took Off

The Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT), originally permitted for development at Cherry Point in 1999 as a bulk shipping terminal and never built, was re-cast in 2010 as the largest coal export terminal ever proposed in North America, to export up to 48 million tons per year of thermal coal brought by train from the Powder River Basin. The new version of GPT was required to apply for new permits in 2011, and the process of preparing an Environmental Impact Statement launched in 2012.

Whatcom County residents, and communities along the proposed coal train rail-route from Montana and Wyoming, rallied in record numbers to speak out, submitting 126,000 scoping comments calling for over a hundred unique impacts to be studied. Three years after scoping, the expansive Draft EIS was still not completed when federal permits were denied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, upholding Lummi Nation’s treaty rights.

While attention focused on GPT in 2012, refineries quietly applied for permits to build rail terminals to bring in more volatile light shale oil from North Dakota’s fracking wells, as well as more tar sands bitumen (aka “heavy crude”), a dense and dirty substitute for crude oil that sinks in water. Crude oil “unit trains,” with over a hundred DOT-111 tank cars full of oil, first appeared in late 2011 and rapidly increased as fracked-oil production boomed, and, by 2013, were being received at terminals across the continent. The National Transportation Safety Board warned in 2012 that these pressurized tank cars could easily puncture, catch fire, and explode in a derailment.

As predicted, from 2013 to 2016, we saw 11 oil trains explode across the continent, including an eruption in Lac Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people and leveled the downtown. A train bound for Washington exploded along the Columbia River in Mosier, Oregon, with a fire that burned for over 14 hours, causing evacuation of nearby cities and leaving them without running water for over a week. Another train, reportedly destined for Whatcom County, blew up in Montana. These explosions were a foreseeable impact of the oil-by-rail projects that the Whatcom County Planning Department permitted.

By the time the dangers became truly apparent in July 2013, four oil train terminals had already been built in Washington that year: at BP Cherry Point Refinery, and Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery, Tesoro Anacortes Refinery, and at the U.S. Oil Refinery in Tacoma, bringing in a combined volume of roughly one million barrels of crude oil per week. Whatcom County had determined the refineries’ rail terminal projects to be non-significant, ignoring the risks from explosions and the cumulative impact of trains running daily, granting the permits with minimal review.

By granting permits for oil train terminals, Whatcom County is responsible for introducing significant risk to the safety of residents here, and in other communities all along the rail route through North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington (including Seattle).

Communities Block Oil Train Terminals

No federal agency has acted to constrain the rapid escalation of oil-by-rail traffic this decade. However, counties and cities have.

The city of Vancouver, Washington, chose to require an Environmental Impact Statement on a proposed terminal to transfer oil from trains to barges on the Columbia River. The hearing examiner upheld the decision after an appeal by the terminal operator NuStar Energy, which then decided to cancel its application after an EIS was required.

A separate proposal from Tesoro Oil and Savage Industries to build the largest ever oil-train-to-barge transfer terminal was determined significant and sent to Washington State’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) for review. In February 2018, EFSEC unanimously rejected the proposal because of its unavoidable, significant adverse impacts to public safety.

Shell Puget Sound Refinery applied to build a rail terminal and was initially determined non-significant by Skagit County. After an appeal, the hearing examiner ruled that the project was significant and required an EIS. The Draft EIS was released in October 2016, showing unavoidable, significant adverse impacts, and, in the same week, Shell announced they were withdrawing permit applications and cancelled the project. No oil terminal that required an EIS was built, because, when cumulative impacts were recognized and considered, the projects became untenable. Gaping Hole in Current Statues A gaping hole in our current statutes was revealed when Petrogas started exporting propane through one of the three marine terminals at Cherry Point in 2014.

Since 1964, the pier had been primarily used for importing aluminum ore and supplies for smelting at Intalco. Since 1975, it had also been used to import propane (aka Liquified Petroleum Gas or LPG) for local area consumption. Petrogas changed the use of the pier to primarily export LPG (propane or butane) brought by train from outside the state, which quadrupled LPG export volumes for the entire West Coast by 2016 — when they purchased the terminal outright from Alcoa Intalco Works.

The county did nothing to challenge this and required no specific permits for the change of use. The only restriction in place is a limit of 48 ships per year by terms of their aquatic lands lease from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), who approved the transfer of ownership from Intalco to Petrogas.

The fact that this change of use occurred with no public process highlighted a frightening vulnerability: if Petrogas could export propane with no permit required, there was also nothing to stop an existing oil terminal from loading outbound ships with tar sands bitumen brought through the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta.

Tar Sands Exports Via the Salish Sea

Tar sands strip mines of Alberta, Canada, are an extremely costly and destructive source of an unconventional fossil fuel called bitumen, tar or oil sands. The Athabasca tar sands strip mines cover an area roughly the size of Whatcom County from Bellingham Bay to Mount Baker where boreal forests have been clear-cut and earth stripped off to open vast pits of tar that is scraped out in layers. The mines have consumed and contaminated over a trillion gallons of water in the past decade, and have eradicated wildlife and resources from enormous areas of Chippewyan and Cree peoples’ traditional territory.

The mining and processing of the tar is so intensive that the ratio of energy produced is less than twice what is expended to yield it. Canada’s government has spent billions to subsidize it, and is hellbent on exploiting the reserves at all costs. But attempts to build new tar sands pipelines to the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf coasts have been stalled repeatedly.

For over a decade, First Nations and communities all around lower British Columbia have fought back against a proposal to double-track the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline route, so as to increase sevenfold the tar sands export shipments out of Burnaby, B.C., to over 400 tankers a year. Last year, permits were quashed in a Canadian federal court decision on a challenge brought by First Nations, who had not been properly consulted on the project. The court ordered that meaningful consultation must occur and that impacts to southern resident orcas from the increased tar sands vessel traffic would have to occur for permits to be re-issued.

Kinder Morgan, the Texas-based owner of Trans Mountain, had enough and sought to sell off the pipeline. Unable to find a willing buyer, the Trudeau government bought the existing pipeline and expansion project from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion, and vowed to pursue new permits for the expansion at taxpayer expense. Canada’s purchase included a 70-mile segment built in 1954 called the Puget Sound Pipeline, which runs through Whatcom to supply refineries at Cherry Point and March Point in Anacortes.

With the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline also stalled along with Trans Mountain, oil extractors are resorting to changing the use of existing transshipment facilities to expand their shipping capacity. Cherry Point has been cited in reports from government and industry as a prime alternative route to ship tar sands through.

Crude Oil Through Cherry Point

From 1975 to 2015, a federal ban on crude oil export ensured that oil extracted in the United States would be refined domestically. This protected refinery workers’ job security and union bargaining leverage with their employers, while preventing added tanker shipments that would occur from shipping crude to overseas refineries and sending back refined product.

At the close of 2015, the ban was lifted, opening the gates to export projects that would increase train and tanker traffic further, even as we continued to reduce our demand for oil locally and nationally. By then, networks of environmental groups, tribes, unions, community interest groups, elected officials and activists across the Pacific Northwest had united to fight off a line-up of proposed fossil fuel shipment expansions, including seven coal export proposals and several oil train terminals, none of which have been built. Not being able to build new terminals, oil companies would resort to routing more shipments for export through existing terminals, such as those operated by oil refineries at Cherry Point, March Point in Anacortes, and in Tacoma.

County Council Enacted Moratorium

In January 2016, the County Council began reviewing and taking public input on the Comprehensive Plan, which outlines policy goals to guide development regulations. Thousands of concerned community members flooded in with comments, petitions, and testimony supporting action to oppose dangerous fossil fuel expansions. Several public hearings that year were standing-room only, lasting for hours late into the night.

In May 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers denied federal permits for the Gateway Pacific Terminal, upholding Lummi Nation’s treaty-protected fishing rights. Finally, the Whatcom County Council was free to act without fear of compromising their position as a quasi-judicial permitting authority for the pending coal terminal. In June 2016, Councilmember Carl Weimer introduced amendments to the Cherry Point Urban Growth Area (UGA) to discourage expanded crude oil, gas and coal shipments through the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, while aiming to support refineries and retain existing industries.

British Petroleum (BP), the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), and the Whatcom Business Alliance (WBA) reacted strongly, threatening lawsuits and implying that BP could shut down their Cherry Point refinery and move overseas if regulations restricted their ability to expand crude oil shipments through their terminal.

Under great pressure, the council sent the amendments through a year-long review process. However, BP’s heavy-handed response heightened concerns that they would seek to expand crude oil and tar sands shipping. While policies were moving through the public process, BP would have been able to apply for permits and obtain vesting rights, exempting them from adhering to codes enacted after they applied.

The council was able to prevent this by enacting a moratorium that temporarily barred permits that would facilitate increased shipment of unrefined fossil fuels through the Cherry Point UGA, intended to be held in place until pending code revisions were finally adopted. First enacted in August 2016, the moratorium has been extended six times and is now in effect until August 12, 2019.

Weimer’s Comprehensive Plan amendments were finally adopted in May 2017. The county then contracted Cascadia Law Group to study and prepare a report on legal ways the county may choose to limit the negative impacts from increased crude oil, gas and coal shipments through Cherry Point. In February 2018, Cascadia Law Group presented a menu of recommendations on legally sound policy tools the county can use to address hazardous fossil fuel proposals.

In April 2018, the council passed a resolution, introduced by Councilmember Todd Donovan, directing county planning staff to draft an ordinance to implement some of Cascadia Law Group’s recommendations. After eight months of afternoon work sessions with the council and county staff, on January 15, 2019, the County Council majority voted to forward a draft ordinance to be reviewed by the Planning Commission. On January 29, they voted to extend the temporary moratorium for six more months while the draft ordinance moves through the final stages of review, public input, and revision.

The effect of the new draft ordinance is to require conditions for fossil fuel projects, ensure more stringent review of impacts, increase transparency, allow for more public input, require new permits when the facilities change uses, and ban coal outright. Here is an overview of what’s included:

Major Fossil Fuel Facilities
The ordinance primarily addresses “major fossil fuel facilities,” defined as: “Within the Heavy Impact Industrial (HII) District, Light Impact Industrial (LII) District, or Cherry Point Industrial (CP) District, stationary facilities for (a) the transshipment, storage, receipt, processing, or combustion of crude oil or natural gas; (b) the transshipment, storage, receipt, processing, or combustion of their liquid or gaseous products, whether refined, manufactured or the result of petrochemical processes, regardless of origin; and (c) the servicing, bunkering, lightering, or refueling of ships of any kind used in transportation of any of the above.” New or modified facilities are permitted as conditional uses and face scrutiny for review of their impacts.

Administering SEPA
The Washington State Environmental Policy Act grants broad authority to county and municipal governments to approve or reject project permit applications. However, those decisions can be challenged through regulatory appeals by a proponent that doesn’t get its way, or by public interest groups and individuals concerned about the impacts. In that case, the permitting agency (i.e. Whatcom County) must prove that they applied the law fairly according to the county code and state law.

The first step in the SEPA process, when an application is reviewed, is for the Whatcom County Planning Department to make a threshold determination. For upgrades or expansions of existing facilities in the Cherry Point industrial zone, typically county Planning and Development Services is the only government agency deciding permits. They decide if the impacts of the project are significant or non-significant. If a project (such as the Gateway Pacific Terminal) is determined significant, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required to inform decision-makers of the foreseeable impacts. Permits can be rejected based on significant, unmitigable adverse impacts identified in the EIS.

Enormous air and water pollution, extreme risks and hazards from induced train and tanker traffic, are seen as not significant by county officials, based on the perspective that the refineries have existed since before SEPA or any environmental laws were in place, so their cumulative impacts are grandfathered-in, therefore, incremental increases in impacts are not seen as significant.

In the county’s draft land-use ordinance, projects for all major fossil fuel facilities must be determined significant and require an EIS that assesses cumulative impacts from greenhouse gas pollution, vessel traffic, as well as local impacts. The definition of fossil fuel facilities is broad, but minor maintenance and upgrade work at existing sites can be exempted by obtaining a waiver. At large facilities, maintenance and upgrades are done almost constantly. The goal is to ensure transparency and accountability to prevent piecemealing, a series of minor changes adding up to a major change.

Revising Zoning Code
The state’s Growth Management Act allows the county to designate zones with restricted uses, such as residential, commercial, mixed-use, light impact industrial, or heavy impact industrial. The county zoning code applies to unincorporated areas of the county, but not within cities. Cherry Point UGA is the county’s Heavy Impact Industrial Zone, home to two oil refineries, an aluminum smelter, and a gas-fired power plant.

Within zoning code, the county can specify permitted uses and conditional uses. Permitted uses are approved by the planning department, although decisions can be contested before the county hearing examiner, a land-use adjudicator. A Conditional Use Permit (CUP) must undergo scrutiny by the hearing examiner automatically, must disclose more information, and are subject to approval under restrictive conditions. Unlike regular building permits, a conditional use permit can be revoked if its terms are violated.

The combination of requiring a CUP and EIS on a fossil fuel project will prevent piecemealing, increase transparency, and allow the county to require that a project does not increase pollution or threaten the safety of residents, or reject the project if it can’t meet standards.

Addressing Change of Use
Under existing rules, piecemeal upgrades can occur without substantive review of direct or indirect impacts, which can fundamentally alter the operations of the facility over time, while each project is looked at as an insignificant addition to an existing industry. The county has no discernible procedure or practice in place to address change of use, and as a result has allowed major developments to escape environmental review. The new land-use ordinance will require a Conditional Use Permit for new uses of existing facilities, triggering a public process and opportunity to say no if the new use presents significant adverse impacts.

Prohibiting Coal
The draft ordinance prohibits storage or transfer of bulk coal, as well as new piers, docks or wharves at Cherry Point. The impacts from coal are already well documented. Though an EIS was never completed on Gateway Pacific, a comparable coal terminal proposed at Longview, Washington, Millennium Bulk Terminals completed an EIS and was subsequently denied permits by Cowlitz County and Washington State Department of Ecology for its significant, adverse, unmitigable impacts. Now, Millennium is suing the state for denying permits, and lobbying the U.S. Congress to intervene. Whatcom County can avoid such a scenario from ever occurring again by banning coal outright now. Prohibitions on non-existing uses, such as coal storage and transfer, may be the least complicated action at hand, which legal precedent clearly supports.

Action Across the Pacific Northwest

Whatcom County is not the only local government grappling with these issues. Activists and elected officials in Anacortes and Skagit County, home to two more oil refineries at March Point, are resisting oil expansions and following Whatcom’s actions, as are refinery-adjacent communities in Richmond and Benicia, California.

The city of Portland, Oregon, enacted a ban on new fossil fuel terminals with a capacity greater than two million gallons and capped the size of existing terminals. Industry lawyers appealed, and the ordinance was ultimately upheld as constitutional and lawful by an Oregon Court of Appeals. Across the river from Portland, the City Council and Port Commission of Vancouver, Washington, are publicly discussing enacting similar laws to prohibit bulk fossil fuel terminals.

Tacoma, Washington, has imposed its own version of a moratorium on new fossil fuel facilities while they undergo a planning process for the tideflats area, home to an oil refinery, rail terminal and pier that Par Pacific Holdings, Inc. purchased from U.S. Oil & Refining Company in January, with stated plans to expand outbound crude oil shipments.

The King County Council is currently reviewing an ordinance that would effectively ban all new major fossil fuel infrastructure in King County, including expansion of existing gas pipelines.

Beyond the region, Baltimore, Maryland, has banned new or expanded crude oil terminals. South Portland, Maine, banned the bulk loading of crude oil onto tankers at their port. Like Portland, Oregon, these East Coast cities had to defend their laws against industry appeals, and both cities also prevailed in court.

Next Steps in Progress

At an upcoming town hall meeting, Whatcom County officials will take public input on the proposed land-use ordinance. The Whatcom County Planning Commission will review and revise the draft, then hold another public hearing before the council makes its final review. There will be a public hearing before the final vote to approve the ordinance, thus amending county code, making it law. The process is expected to be completed this spring, but could extend to July.

The County Council has shown resolute determination not to be bullied into submission by oil and gas industries. Despite intense pressure and blowback, the council has decided to proceed with review of this ordinance. This slow but steady progress could not happen without demonstrated support from our communities, calling on them to act and watching their steps. We’re in the final stretch: this year more than ever, Whatcom County residents need to show up and speak out.

Washington Goes Solar! A Year of Local Leadership in Clean Energy

posted Dec 17, 2018, 6:08 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Dec 17, 2018, 6:15 PM ]

2018 was a big year for clean energy in Whatcom County and Bellingham,
despite the federal government allying itself firmly with fossil fuel interests. The City of Bellingham became the second city in Washington to commit to using 100% clean energy by 2035, and formed a committee of community members to advise them on reaching that goal. Bellingham also turned out some of the strongest support in the state for I-1631, with 68% of residents voting Yes for the clean air and clean energy ballot initiative in November.

While RE Sources pushed for those measures to help our city, county, and state transition away from fossil fuels, we also partnered with two local companiesEcotech Solar and Itek Energy — on our Washington Goes Solar! program, which successfully outfitted 40 homes and businesses with solar arrays. Ecotech and Itek then donated a panel to The RE Store for every home or business that went solar as a result of learning the benefits at our workshops.

Our goal was to break down barriers for people who hadn’t realized solar was a good fit for them -- helping them understand the complicated incentive programs, encouraging them to have their home or business assessed for solar’s feasibility, and answer any burning questions. We hosted 10 workshops and got over 200 community members up to speed on how to go solar, how easy and affordable it can be with low-interest financing, and how they can possibly generate even more power off their roof than they consume annually — even in rainy western Washington.

This solar program model proved to be mutually beneficial to local businesses, Whatcom residents, and RE Sources. It provided a free, easy way for community members to better understand how a home solar array can pay for itself in just a few years. It drummed up business for company headquartered just down the road from RE Sources. And it earned a nonprofit its very own solar array, freeing up funds to put back into the community (like The RE Store’s Community Jobs Training Program) that would otherwise go to an electricity bill. Ecotech installed half of the 40 panels The RE Store earned through the program on the warehouse roof this summer, and the rest are coming early 2019.

No matter what barriers clean energy faces nationally, our community has shown time and time again that it is built of role models and forward-thinkers who know that a clean energy future is not only necessary — it’s within our reach, if we choose to journey there, one solar panel at a time.

Announcing RE Sources' new Executive Director!

posted Nov 16, 2018, 2:03 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Nov 16, 2018, 2:05 PM ]

From RE Sources Board president, Charlie Maliszewski 

Great news! The board of directors has hired an Executive Director who will lead the organization into what promises to be an exciting new chapter. With great pleasure, we would like to introduce you to Shannon Wright, strategic leader and time-tested activist, who has led successful, high-impact initiatives to protect the environment and support frontline communities. 

Shannon has been a leader in the environmental movement for more than twenty years.
Some may know her as former ED of Communitywise Bellingham, one of the key orgs that  raised awareness to defeat the GPT coal terminal. She has also helped develop a dynamic strategy to bolster the BALLE movement for localized economies; forged alliances with diverse stakeholders to advance clean energy solutions with Greenpeace; addressed deforestation and supported indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest; and advocated for women’s rights in Andean farming communities with CARE International.

Shannon brings a collaborative approach to building coalitions and teams, with a strong track record in advocacy strategy, communications, fundraising, planning, organizational development, direct action, international coalition building, and team leadership. 

We are excited to see what happens with Shannon’s strategic guidance, visionary leadership, and advocacy chops, combined with the opportunities we now have with a pro-environment majority in the state legislature. 2019 will be the year for Washington State to become an example to our nation with a new generation of women in power who have the courage and foresight to tackle important issues like climate change.

We are grateful we can count on you, our supporters, to stand with us to protect the home we love and the values we share. 

Yes on I-1631: An inclusive approach to building healthier communities

posted Aug 10, 2018, 11:26 AM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Aug 21, 2018, 10:31 AM ]

By Andy Nicholas, Associate Director of Fiscal Policy at the Washington State Budget & Policy Center.
This post is republished with permission from their blog.


Washingtonians must take bold action to confront the serious threat that air pollution poses to the health and well-being of communities from Longview to Walla Walla. But meaningful action can only be achieved and sustained if people and communities – especially people of color, rural communities, and other populations that are often overlooked by lawmakers and initiative campaigns – are rightfully included in developing solutions to this threat from the very beginning.

That's why the Washington State Budget & Policy Center is joining Tribal Nations, businesses, climate scientists, public health experts, and organizations representing communities of color, workers, and families with lower incomes in endorsing Initiative 1631.

I-1631 is a smart, inclusive proposal to invest in clean air and water in Washington state. Under the measure, hundreds of millions of dollars would be invested in communities like Yakima, South Seattle, Centralia, and other areas that have been most harmed by air pollution to build clean and efficient transportation and energy infrastructure. And workers in these communities would benefit from new "green collar" jobs that would be created in the process of building and maintaining the new clean infrastructure.

Here’s how it would work: Beginning in 2020, I-1631 would impose a first-in-the-nation pollution fee on the biggest polluters in Washington state that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or that import carbon-laden fossil fuels. The fee would initially be set at $15 per ton of carbon dioxide and would increase annually at a rate of $2 per ton, adjusted for inflation, until the state meets specific air pollution reduction goals. It would generate roughly $850 million in new resources for community investments in the upcoming 2019-21 budget cycle and more than $1.3 billion in the following 2021-23 cycle. (1)   

But the truly remarkable feature of I-1631 is the amount of revenue that would be directly invested into "pollution and health action areas," or areas that have been disproportionately impacted by air pollution. That includes many rural areas. It also includes places with large concentrations of people of color who, due to systemic racism, are much more likely to live in heavily polluted areas and areas with fewer employment opportunities.   

For example, in the 2021-23 budget cycle, the first biennium in which the carbon fee would be fully implemented, the measure would require:

  • Substantial clean energy infrastructure projects located directly within pollution and health action areas ($245 million)
  • Resources to help people with lower incomes upgrade to newer, energy-efficient appliances, transition to low-carbon fuels, weatherize their homes, install solar panels, and offset other costs associated with transitioning to a low-carbon economy ($144 million)
  • Sovereign Indian Tribes receive a just share of resources to help address climate-related dislocation, fight poor health associated with disproportionate exposure to air pollution, build low-carbon energy and transportation infrastructure, and more ($139 million)
  • Assistance for workers employed in the fossil fuel industry to transition to good, clean-energy jobs. Workers near retirement would be eligible to receive wage replacements, health benefits, pension contributions, and other benefits. Younger workers would also be eligible for wage replacement, health benefits, and pension contributions. They would also be granted free access to retraining programs at state technical and community colleges, assistance with relocation costs, and priority placement at jobs in the clean energy sector ($50 million)
  • Resources to help people living in pollution and health action areas participate in the process of developing and monitoring clean energy projects and programs to help their communities transition to a vibrant clean energy economy ($14 million)
The remaining two-thirds of revenue from the pollution fee would be used to fund clean air and energy projects located outside of these targeted areas, and to sustain clean water and healthy forests throughout the state.

It's important to note that residents from pollution and health action areas would have a direct and strong voice in developing, approving, and overseeing projects funded by the pollution fee. That's because the measure would establish a public oversight board of representatives from Tribal governments, labor unions, and people living in pollution and health action areas, alongside agencies and experts in pollution reduction and clean energy. 

I-1631 would also create an environmental and economic justice panel composed of residents from pollution and health action areas, members of Tribal Nations, labor unions, and experts in clean energy and economic dislocation. The panel would be charged with developing and recommending projects to be located directly within the pollution and health action areas. It would also be responsible for developing programs to ensure people with lower incomes have the support they need to adapt and thrive in a low-carbon economy. 

Voters should approve I-1631 on the November ballot. The measure would help jumpstart Washington’s transition to a healthier, low-carbon economy in which all communities will have opportunities to thrive in the coming years. It is also the most inclusive effort ever undertaken to improve the health and well-being of communities in every corner of Washington state. 


(1) Washington State Budget & Policy Center calculations of data from the Office of Financial Management’s Fiscal Impact Statement for Initiative 1631

Tell Whatcom County Council: Safeguard our communities, Cherry Point, and the Salish Sea

posted Jun 25, 2018, 1:45 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Jun 25, 2018, 1:59 PM ]

In a shocking move, Canada’s federal government recently announced it will purchase the Trans Mountain Pipeline from Texas giant Kinder Morgan, bailing out the stalled tar sands export expansion project for $4.5 billion in taxpayer dollars -- a project no other buyer wanted. 

While the battle against the Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline rages on, Canada’s acquisition also includes the existing 64-year-old Puget Sound Pipeline that carries tar sands to all four refineries in Skagit and Whatcom Counties. It travels under the Nooksack River, and parts of Bellingham including Whatcom Falls Park.
Tar sands field in Alberta, Canada

Pipeline investor reports have marked Cherry Point as an alternative route for tar sands exports, raising the possibility of an oil terminal expansion in the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, and another pipeline expansion across Whatcom County. That would mean more super-tankers passing around the San Juan Islands, bringing an increased risk of a catastrophic oil spill that could spell the end for salmon and orca populations.

That’s why we have to keep up the pressure on Whatcom County Council to safeguard our communities, Cherry Point, and the Salish Sea by enacting stronger laws and policies locally. 

Will you send a message to the Whatcom County Council today? Below is a template for you to adapt and send to council@co.whatcom.wa.us

We stand ready to do whatever it takes to safeguard our home and waters, indigenous rights, and iconic species like salmon and orca. Will you stand with us today? Thank you!

Template Letter: 

Honorable Councilmembers, 

[ADD personal note about why you are concerned and impacted by tar sands shipments]

Cherry Point is at risk again of becoming a transshipment point to load tankers with ‘tar sands’ heavy crude oil from Canada’s Trans Mountain (Puget Sound) Pipeline, which would increase the risk of an oil spill in endangered species’ habitat and on our beloved shorelines of the Salish Sea. 

I implore you to strengthen standards and conditions for project permits in the Cherry Point UGA, to protect our communities from the burden of risk and adverse impacts on health and safety from transporting heavy crude oil and other hazardous materials through Whatcom County. New facilities to ship coal, oil or gas should be prohibited, and existing facilities should be held to the highest standards for safety and pollution control. Permits for upgrades must require SEPA EIS review of cumulative impacts with a greenhouse gas life-cycle analysis, total mitigation of climate pollution, and conditions to require no adverse impacts on herring, salmon, orca, or other endangered species. 

In 2012, Whatcom County permitted two oil-by-rail unloading facilities which have brought near-daily shipments of >100-unit explosive tank cars through Bellingham and Ferndale, without requiring an environmental impacts study. Projects such as these highlight the inadequacy of County procedures to reasonably protect our communities from unacceptable hazards. 

Furthermore, it is a waste of county resources to process or approve project permits without prior federal authorization for compliance with treaty-protected tribal fishing rights and laws such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Please ensure that our tax dollars are not again wasted on reviewing and permitting unlawful projects, as was done for Gateway Pacific Terminal. 

Thank you for your hard work and diligence in service of our county,

CITY (address optional)

Op-Ed: YES on I-1631, for clean energy and healthy communities

posted Apr 12, 2018, 11:36 AM by Simon Bakke

By Ander Russell, Clean Water Program Manager, and Rosalinda Guillen, Executive Director of Community to Community Development; Originally published in Cascadia Weekly, April 11, 2018.

Support clean air, clean energy and healthier communities.

The work of protecting people and the planet is a roller coaster of wins and losses. Lately, we are playing a lot of defense against local, state and national groups seeking to undo decades of social and environmental progress. Washington voters will soon have an opportunity to stand up for the health of our communities, economy and climate. Will you join us in our endeavor to create a cleaner future for Washington, building healthier communities for everyone in our state?

Northwest Washington has seen the consequences of a changing climate: Last summer, wildfire smoke choked the region, while salmon died in shallowing rivers. Even so, our state’s legislature failed to pass meaningful climate legislation this year. As the federal government turns its back on the reality of climate change, the real-life consequences jeopardize the health of people and the economy.

That’s why the people of Washington are moving forward with Initiative 1631, the Protect Washington Act. This initiative will create living-wage jobs by investing in clean energy, healthy forests and clean water. With funds from a fee paid by the state’s largest polluters, we can increase the resiliency of our communities to the impacts of climate change.

For decades, corporate polluters have put profits over people while dirtying our land, air and water. Many of us already contribute to cleaning up and preventing pollution. I-1631 gives us the tools to do the job right, getting the largest polluters to fund investments in clean energy infrastructure like wind and solar, and creating lasting, well-paying, local jobs.

I-1631 is backed by diverse constituencies across the state representing working families, communities of color, environmental and clean energy advocates, health professionals, businesses, and faith organizations all committed to building our state’s economy, improving the health of our residents and leading the fight against climate change. We came together to find solutions that work for all of us—especially those from the most impacted communities, who have historically been excluded from decisions about the environment and economy, Farmworkers, labor organizers, environmental advocates, health professionals, and more came together around the same table to create a policy that reflects our shared values. Every single person wants a healthy environment and a vibrant economy that works for everyone.

Here in Whatcom County, local backers of this policy include Community to Community, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, the NW Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO), Riveters Collective, 350 Bellingham, Stand.earth, Safeguard the Southfork, Jobs with Justice, and Mt Baker Group Sierra Club.

Climate change is happening now. We can’t wait for action any longer. Yet we must ensure that solutions to climate change are fair and equitable. In crafting this initiative, our coalition put justice and equity at the forefront. That means listening to the voices of those who are impacted and ensuring indigenous rights and tribal sovereignty are respected and upheld, all while ensuring protections for workers in all industries—from refineries to farms.

What will I-1631 invest in? Expanding renewable power generation from wind and solar. Restoring and protecting water sources, estuaries, fisheries, and marine shorelines, reducing flood risk, improving infrastructure for treating stormwater, preparing for sea-level rise and addressing ocean acidification. We’ll improve forest health and enhance preparedness for wildfires. Dedicated funds will assist low-income residents to ensure affordable energy, and support workers that may be displaced by the transition from fossil fuels to energy independence. All this means thousands of family-wage jobs across our state. Our policy also ensures public oversight and accountability for making good investments.

Sovereign indigenous nations have also expressed meaningful support for this initiative. Funds will aid climate adaptation and clean energy for native communities, and tribal governments must be consulted on projects directly impacting their land and resources.

Washingtonians have never been afraid to lead or create something new. Through people’s ballot initiatives, Washington voters have forged the way for other states on numerous policies. Now, we’re setting the course for equitable climate policy in the United States. That’s why we need your help to qualify for the ballot and to win in November.

You can join our movement today! To learn more about our policy, the coalition, or to join our campaign, visit: yeson1631.org

Attend Bellingham’s campaign kickoff at 6:30pm April 19 at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship (1207 Ellsworth St.) to get involved in signature gathering.

Rosalinda Guillen is executive director of Community to Community Development; Ander Russell is the Clean Water program manager for RE Sources for Sustainable Communities

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